Dodgers Report: Miami Marlins

Grading the week: Still lots to like

August, 27, 2013
In most seasons, for most teams, a 4-3 record in a week that started 2,400 miles from home and concluded against one of the best teams in baseball would be considered successful. For the 2013 Dodgers, you’d have to consider it a mild disappointment.

After doing what you would have expected them to do in Miami, they came home and lost a series to the Boston Red Sox. Before that, they hadn’t lost a series since mid-June.

They ran into very tough Boston starting pitching and the offense in the past week or so has shown some signs of tapering off.

Not that it was a bad week if you’re a Dodger fans. Vin Scully announced he’s returning next season for his 65th year in the broadcast booth. Scully said the excitement of the team’s dramatic season was one of the reasons he decided to come back.


For a while, one of the most impressive aspects of the Dodgers’ surge was their ability to beat quality, sometimes even dominant, starting pitchers. Cliff Lee. Matt Harvey. Shelby Miller. It didn’t matter. The Dodgers somehow got the better of some difficult matchups.

Last week, they settled into a more-pedestrian pattern. They scored off the pitchers you would expect them to score on and looked human against the others. Jose Fernandez, Jake Peavy and Jon Lester all essentially shut them down.

The Dodgers averaged three runs per game, which is closer to their April and May pace than what they’ve shown since. Still, given the pitchers they were facing, it’s all entirely forgivable.

It’s appropriate that Boston was in town on the one-year anniversary of the big trade. Two of the key cogs from that trade have been, once again, keeping the Dodgers offense moving forward. Carl Crawford batted .333 with three walks and a couple of stolen bases. Adrian Gonzalez hit .296 , homered and drove in four runs.

Otherwise, it was a ho-hum week, with phenom Yasiel Puig (.167) struggling as badly as anyone.

Grade: C


The Dodgers are seeing exactly the kind of dynamic in their pitching staff that can make a team difficult to handle in October. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are becoming the best 1-2 combination of starters in the National League.

But it’s not just about them. Ricky Nolasco missed facing his former team when the Dodgers were in Miami, but he made sure the Boston series wasn’t a total loss by giving up just two hits, striking out six, in Friday’s 2-0 win.

The bullpen wasn’t quite as stout as it had been in previous weeks, with J.P. Howell, Brandon League and Chris Withrow all getting hit at times, but in the key spots, it generally held firm. Kenley Jansen has taken all the drama out of the last inning. He had three saves and allowed just one runner to reach base. Carlos Marmol pitched well, cementing his place in the bullpen.

If you were going to comb through this Dodgers team for a flaw, you would say occasionally sloppy defense could be their downfall. They have made 90 errors this season, worse than all but three teams in the NL. Then again, this trend -- like so many others -- seems to be going in a positive direction.

After making a couple of punishing errors in a loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, Hanley Ramirez played a clean week of defense. He might be the Dodgers’ most-improved fielder.

Grade: A-


There’s another trade deadline on the way. The non-waiver period has already passed, but if teams acquire a player before Saturday, that player would be eligible for the post-season roster.

But, even if general manager Ned Colletti found a team willing to move a major piece, what area does he really need to improve? Brian Wilson and Marmol look like they might be the veteran relievers the Dodgers were looking for before the July 31 deadline.

They could try to land another starting pitcher, but considering they’ll only need four once the playoffs begin, even that would be surprising, especially with Nolasco pitching well.

The Dodgers also will get a little help on the fringes when rosters expand on Sept. 1.

Was Don Mattingly too lenient on Yasiel Puig when he benched him for only part of one game in Miami, a game in which Puig hit the decisive home run after entering as a defensive replacement? Was he too harsh fining him after Puig got stuck in traffic and showed up late?

Those questions will be debated as the Puig saga unfolds, but it seems Mattingly at least started to take a stand. That should be viewed favorably within the clubhouse.

Grade: B-


We saw the first in-house signs of backlash toward Puig last week, with Mattingly fining him and veteran players beginning to express some disappointment with Puig repeating his on-field mistakes. For now, it seems containable, more a headache for Mattingly than a crisis.

The Dodgers’ clubhouse was already trending toward goofy before Wilson arrived. Now, guys seem to be having even more fun before games. Wilson and Uribe have revived their tradition from the San Francisco Giants days of playing dominos before games, with Uribe’s voice often filling the clubhouse with calls of “Wil-son!”

They’re still winning. What's not to like?

Grade: B-


If Dodgers fans are prone to worry, they might think of a team like the 2011 Atlanta Braves, who, on Aug. 23, were in prime position for a deep playoff run, 10 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card standings.

From there, Atlanta went 11-21 and failed to make the playoffs, with the Cardinals making one of the most improbable World Series runs in the sport’s history.

Then again, those types of collapses become famous, because they’re so rare. The Dodgers began the week with a 7 -game lead and they ended it with a 9 1/2-game lead, so how bad can things be?

Grade: A-

Andre Ethier goes from fall guy to spark plug

August, 22, 2013
MIAMI -- There were any number of directions that Andre Ethier could have gone after his benching May 22 for a game in Milwaukee. It seemed to make him the scapegoat for all that had gone wrong for the Los Angeles Dodgers during a miserable first two months of the season.

Not many of those directions seemed positive. Some thought he’d be traded for whatever the Dodgers could get for him at that point. Others worried his notoriously intense temper would explode. At the very least, he might sulk a little bit.

Instead, none of those things happened. He shut up, started putting up and all of a sudden has a nice season going again. Since that benching, Ethier is hitting .279 with five homers and 30 RBIs in 78 games.

He has been especially hot of late, hitting .305 with a .495 slugging percentage since July 22. In the first three games of this series against the Miami Marlins, Ethier is 4-for-10 with two RBIs, two runs and one excellent running catch in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 4-1 win that preserved Kenley Jansen’s 21st save of the season.

“Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want,” Ethier said. “That was one where myself and the team weren’t performing up to the standards that were expected.

“Sometimes that gets pointed out, and it was one where you just take it, look at yourself in the mirror and figure out and get back on track.”

Wait, what?

Where’s that temper?

“There’s just so much potential for this team, I really told myself not to worry about any of the outside distractions,” Ethier said.

Three years ago, things might have been very different though, right?

“I’ll be the first one to say so,” Ethier said. “I probably would’ve pushed back.

“But I took a step back and realized what this team is capable of doing and where we were headed at the time,” he said. “It was time to get on board and figure out where to fit in.”

That has meant playing every outfield position, batting anywhere from second through ninth in the lineup, and learning to tune out trade rumors.

Those rumblings have died down now that Ethier has become the Dodgers’ most reliable center fielder while Matt Kemp is still on the shelf. And despite the looming logjam once Kemp returns, Ethier says he isn't concerned about his status on the club going forward.

“We have the pieces now. What’s the point of complaining about anything?” he said. “We’re heading in the right direction. I’m happy with that.”

The Dodgers look to take three of four games from the Marlins with Clayton Kershaw on the mound for Friday’s 9:40 a.m. PT start. Hanley Ramirez is getting the day off. Yasiel Puig is starting and batting cleanup after receiving an IV to treat dehydration following Wednesday's game.

The lineup:

Crawford LF
Punto SS
Gonzalez 1B
Puig RF
Ethier CF
AJ Ellis C
Schumaker 2B
Uribe 3B
Kershaw P

Greinke passes the baton to Kershaw

August, 21, 2013
MIAMI -- The Cincinnati Reds had to endure the one-two punch, as did the St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Next up, the Miami Marlins, the team that has scored the fewest runs in the National League (by a fairly healthy margin). Good luck, Miami. They get to experience the joys of dealing with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in back-to-back games.

[+] EnlargeZack Greinke
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyZack Greinke says he has "had some breaks" lately in what has been a dominant pitching run for the Dodgers.
Of all the dazzling positives the Dodgers have shown during this stretch of .811 baseball that has now lasted exactly two months, the one that figures to have the most direct impact on their October hopes is the quite distinct, quite competent pairing at the top of their rotation.

Greinke toys with an opposing lineup and then Kershaw simply attacks it. The Dodgers and Cardinals are the only teams in the National League with two starting pitchers who have sub-3.00 ERAs. The Dodgers are the only team in baseball with three.

Greinke (12-3) lowered his ERA to 2.91 with eight dominant innings in the Dodgers' 4-1 win at Marlins Park on Wednesday night. Kershaw gets the Thursday afternoon game. What makes the Marlins' task even harder is that they have to try to get their bats going with different people swinging them.

The combination of a power right-hander like Greinke and a power left-hander like Kershaw forces opposing managers to shuffle their lineups to try to get better -- or, perhaps, the term is "less-unfavorable" -- matchups.

When Greinke stood at a podium at Dodger Stadium last Dec. 11 for his introductory news conference, this is the kind of synergy everyone envisioned.

"Kershaw is on such another level that, if you try to do better than him, you get your feelings hurt pretty much," Greinke said. "I just try to be consistent, make good pitches. I've had some breaks really."

When someone suggested Greinke has been on a better run lately than in his 2009 Cy Young season, he said, "I think that's bad information." By the same token, to attribute his pitching to "breaks" is probably overly humble. In his last three starts, he has given up one run. In those starts, hitters are batting .190 against him.

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Greinke moving closer to co-ace status

August, 21, 2013

MIAMI -- There has been a lot of noise around Yasiel Puig since the Los Angeles Dodgers have been in South Florida, or come to think of it, anywhere else.

But the pitching staff has been making sure everything else stays quiet. Zack Greinke dominated the Miami Marlins in the Dodgers' 4-1 win Wednesday night, and the Marlins have Clayton Kershaw to look forward to Thursday afternoon. The pair is giving the Dodgers a lethal combination at the top of their rotation.

Seems a bit cruel, doesn't it?

Greinke has given up a total of one run in his last three starts. After giving up Giancarlo Stanton's first-inning home run, the Marlins could scarcely touch him. He needed just 99 pitches to get through eight innings, striking out seven batters and giving up six hits. Greinke (12-3) is 6-1 with a 1.40 ERA in his last nine starts.

And closer Kenley Jansen is coming in and giving teams no hope of a rally lately. He pitched another scoreless ninth inning and has saved his last 14 opportunities, piling up 32 strikeouts in his last 21 games.

The Dodgers got their first look this season at the pitcher they had to give up -- Nate Eovaldi -- to get Hanley Ramirez. As good as Ramirez has been for the Dodgers -- arguably the team MVP -- it wasn't a small price to pay.

Eovaldi's fastball was electric, hitting 98 mph in the first inning, and it looks as if he has refined his game since the trade. Eovaldi pitched seven innings despite some shaky defense behind him, giving up three runs (two earned) and six hits.

Ed Lucas made a bad throw to first on Puig's fourth-inning grounder, opening the door for all three of the Dodgers' runs off Eovaldi. Ramirez had an RBI double, ripping a ball into the left-center gap, and Andre Ethier squirted one to left to drive in another run.

Stanton will be an interesting name to keep tabs on in a few years, when he reaches free agency, depending what happens with the Dodgers' other outfielders. He's from the San Fernando Valley (Notre Dame High) and has been critical, at times, of the Marlins' way of doing business.

Oh, and he can hit. In the first three games of this series, Stanton is 7-for-12 with two home runs, both low-flying line drives. He crushed one just inside the left-field foul pole off Greinke.

It's 24-hour Puig drama

August, 20, 2013

MIAMI -- Maybe Don Mattingly inserted Yasiel Puig into the game in the sixth inning just to get him off the bench.

The most frenetic player in the major leagues had to be bouncing off the dugout walls after being left out of the starting lineup for one of the few times since he arrived in Los Angeles 2½ months ago. Not only was Puig not playing when the game started -- in Miami, where he has made his home since defecting from Cuba -- but he got a stern talking-to in Mattingly's office and received an undisclosed fine after showing up late.

Yasiel Puig
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyYasiel Puig celebrates his eighth-inning home run Tuesday that helped give the Dodgers a narrow win over the Marlins.
When Mattingly finally called upon him, Puig, as usual, came charging hard and fast. He swung at the first pitch he saw, hammering it on a majestic arc off the top of the outfield wall for the decisive home run in the Los Angeles Dodgers' 6-4 win at Marlins Park.

"He's always antsy. He's always all over the place," Mattingly said. "Like I said, that motor doesn't ever turn off, I don't think, until he sleeps. … If he sleeps."

It almost seemed foreshadowed by the swirl of activity around Puig before the game. The spotlight finds him whether he wants it to or not. He was able to make the storyline generally positive Tuesday. Puig has hit 12 home runs, and seven of them have come in the seventh inning or later.

The first 68 games of Puig's career have put him on a superstar trajectory. He's batting .352 with .567 slugging percentage. The Dodgers are certainly treating him like a superstar. Before anyone could ask him about the earlier events of Tuesday, Puig signaled to a Dodgers spokesman who, with the help of Puig's interpreter, cut short his postgame interview after one final question.

Before that swing, the Cuban-born Puig was 3-for-23 over the previous five games and he had gone 0-for-5 while showcased against the other great young Cuban player in the National League, Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez the night before.

It's impossible to predict where Puig is headed -- on the bases, in his career, even when he leaves the field. His talent, charisma and volatility are so profound.

"He's not really a problem, just a lot of stuff happens," Mattingly said. "He really isn't."

When the Puig sprinted out to right field as part of a double switch in the sixth, the crowd -- more than 25,000 people were in attendance -- cheered wildly. Not that he felt any more jittery, or more energetic, playing in a city with the largest concentration of Cubans north of Havana.

"I don't really feel pressure. If I don't feel it in Los Angeles, I'm not going to feel it here," Puig said.

The Yasiel Puig show takes a happier turn

August, 20, 2013

MIAMI -- Maybe you think Yasiel Puig is the most dynamic player in baseball. Perhaps you think he's an immature young player headed for a dive.

But if you're a baseball fan, there's a pretty good chance you're paying attention. Puig's neon-lights summer took another wild turn with Tuesday's 6-4 Los Angeles Dodgers win over the Miami Marlins.

Puig, fined before the game for showing up late and left out of the starting lineup, hit a majestic home run in the eighth inning to break a 4-all tie and send the Dodgers on their way to snapping a two-game losing streak.

Puig has proved to be a nice draw here, about 250 miles from where he grew up in Cuba, even when he wasn't pitted against fellow Cuban phenom Jose Fernandez. On Tuesday, the Marlins drew 25,690 fans -- about 7,000 more than their per-game average this season -- and, when Puig finally ran out to right field during a sixth-inning double switch, the fans cheered loudly.

His blast on the first pitch of the eighth inning, off reliever Dan Jennings, soared nearly to the level of the bank of lights above left field and clanged loudly off the top of the wall.

The Marlins have looked a little scrappier than their 47-75 record coming into this series would have suggested. The Dodgers have looked a little sleepier than their 72-51 record coming into the series would have suggested.

Most of Tuesday was a frustrating grind for the Dodgers, who minimized the damage their 16 hits could do by leaving 12 runners on base.

On Monday they ran into the Fernandez buzz saw. On Tuesday they could have easily knocked Jacob Turner from the game in the first few innings, but Skip Schumaker hit into rally-killing double plays in his first two at-bats.

The Dodgers nonetheless built a 4-1 lead with three straight two-out singles in the fourth, but Chris Capuano gave back two the following half-inning. And reliever Brandon League just can't settle into a role in which he seems comfortable.

The demoted closer -- signed to a three-year, $22.5 million deal last October -- had gotten on a nice roll, with a 2.13 ERA and .167 opponents' batting average in his previous 12 games going into Tuesday. But once again, he struggled to protect a slim lead. Pitching the sixth inning, League allowed a pair of sharply hit singles and a walk to allow Miami to tie it 4-all.

The Dodgers eventually gained some traction against Miami's leaky bullpen and shaky defense, adding a key extra run for closer Kenley Jansen, who shut the door for his 20th save. Jansen has saved his past 13 opportunities. Hanley Ramirez, who had gone hitless in the first two games while listening to relentless booing at his former home stadium, had a leadoff double and scored in the ninth.

Are Yasiel Puig's emotions out of control?

August, 19, 2013
MIAMI -- The first time Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was asked who Yasiel Puig reminded him of, he immediately came up with Bo Jackson.

That was back in the early days of spring training, before Puig had ever played a meaningful game above Class-A ball. He was comparing him to a football player because of his rare combination of size and speed. What he’s found out since is that Puig also plays baseball with an emotional intensity usually confined to the NFL.

Is that approach sustainable over a career? Is it sustainable even over the course of one season, which has more than 10 times as many games as an NFL season?

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyYasiel Puig went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts against fellow Cuban sensation Jose Fernandez.
Neither of those questions has been answered definitively, but it’s fair to say the Dodgers are grappling with those themes as they get a handle on how to handle Puig. Do they risk tampering with his brilliant start if they ask him to tone it down?

The question is similar to the one about what to do about his lapses in fundamentals. Are they simply things you have to accept -- the bad with the good -- or if they correct them now, could they make him an even better player? Several Dodgers have admitted that the message simply isn't getting through.

Mattingly clearly is walking a fine -- and probably uncomfortable -- line. During Monday night’s 6-2 loss to the Miami Marlins, Mattingly had to walk out and make peace with an umpire after Puig inexplicably erupted at John Hirschbeck after a three-pitch strikeout in the fifth inning. Only one of those pitches was a called strike, the last was Puig swinging wildly at 97 mph fastballs.

Mattingly said he had to assuage an umpire in Philadelphia just a day or two earlier. Monday’s dispute started with Puig glaring at Hirschbeck and ended with his teammates having to hustle him out of the dugout before he was ejected. Puig has already alienated opponents with his flamboyant style. Of course, you could argue, who cares? It's a little bit riskier to get on the wrong side of umpires.

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Hanley Ramirez turns back the clock

June, 25, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- It took Hanley Ramirez about one second to answer the question, "When was the last time you felt this good at the plate?"

"Um, 2009, when I was the batting champion," Ramirez said.

[+] EnlargeRamirez
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillHanley Ramirez seems to be feeling like his old self again, and that is obviously good news for the Dodgers.
One of the reasons Yasiel Puig has captured the imagination of baseball fans these past few weeks is the limitlessness of it all. We still don't know where his talent is pulling him and, by extension, us. It could go anywhere. The skill set is so profound, there really is no comparison too outlandish, at least until his career settles in.

Ramirez is seven years older than Puig, with seven more years in the major leagues. He has baggage and has had his share of disappointments, but in some ways, his upside is every bit as mysterious. In 2009, three years after his Rookie of the Year season, Ramirez batted .342. His OPS was .954.

Then, the mileage started catching up to him. He dealt with lower-back pain. The accumulated damage to his left shoulder became so bad, doctors had to cut him open after the 2010 season. He still has the scar.

He became a different guy, a diminished player with a bad reputation. The past two years, Ramirez batted .252 with a .742 OPS. Manager Don Mattingly kept asking him to cut down his swing, but Ramirez didn't budge. His results weren't adding up to the sum of his talents and a lot of people wondered if they ever again would.

Could it just be that the dazzling talent of those earlier years in Miami has returned? The signs certainly are hinting at it. Ramirez hit a ball so hard off the left-field foul pole in the sixth inning of the Dodgers' 6-5 win over the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday, it left the stadium in record time.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, it took the ball 2.97 seconds to leave, the quickest departure from any stadium this season. He hit two balls just as hard over the weekend in San Diego. During this eight-game hitting streak, Ramirez is batting .467 with two doubles and four home runs.

"Hanley's dangerous," Mattingly said. "He hits the ball hard, as hard as anybody."

Anybody, presumably, includes Puig.

In fact, Mattingly started feeling good about his lineup again -- for the first time since early April -- the day he decided he would no longer rest Ramirez every third or fourth game to ease his balky hamstring back into action. Mattingly decided he was going to play his "guys."

"Since that day, I felt like we've put a lineup together," Mattingly said.

If Ramirez really is all the way back, the next project is Matt Kemp. If he, too, reverts to previous form, the Dodgers will, for the first time since about Opening Day, feel as if this is only the beginning.

Quick take: Dodgers 7, Marlins 1

May, 11, 2013

LOS ANGELES -- It was a baby step, but a big one, if that makes sense.

The Los Angeles Dodgers beat a team they should beat, the Miami Marlins, on Saturday night. But the way things had been going for these guys, nothing seemed like a tap-in. And in doing so, L.A. snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 7-1 win in front of 42,208 fans at Dodger Stadium.

Slumping players hit. A rotation beset by short outings got a long, almost-dominant start. A defense that has been uneven was reliable and, occasionally, spectacular. It was textbook stuff, a team finally playing up to its capabilities after weeks of sleepwalking.

Now, we find out if it will amount to anything. The Dodgers still are seven games under .500. They are attempting to become the 30th team in baseball history to go through an eight-game losing streak and make the postseason, the fourth to win a World Series.

The effort was far from lacking Saturday. Skip Schumaker and Carl Crawford made spectacular diving stops. The Dodgers' offensive pressure was steady.

And above all else, Andre Ethier broke out. Ethier went into Saturday in one of the worst slumps of his career, batting .209 since April 20. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly thought Ethier was getting frustrated with his early at-bats and struggling to maintain any consistency. Saturday, he had a contained approach and went 4-for-4 with four solidly struck line-drive hits.

Hyun-Jin Ryu set an early tone, mowing down the Marlins through the first three innings, as the Dodgers got steady traction against Kevin Slowey. Ryu has been one of the few pleasant surprises for Mattingly and the Dodgers. He has gotten the ball into the seventh inning in each of his starts. Not even Clayton Kershaw can say that.

Ryu got a loud, standing ovation when he left the mound with two outs in the seventh inning.

The Dodgers had a wild third inning, scoring twice, but getting two players thrown out on the bases. Matt Kemp got a little excited rounding second base -- perhaps unaware that Adrian Gonzalez was being held at third -- and was cut down by Marcell Ozuna; and Schumaker appeared to pick up a bloop hit to left, but Matt Diaz forced Ethier out at third.

The Dodgers didn't fold after that foiled rally, though. They scored again in the fifth, chasing Slowey after 102 pitches with two outs in the inning. Slowey came into Saturday's game with a 1.61 ERA in his first seven starts.

Zack Greinke might take a step back

May, 11, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- Zack Greinke will be pitching Wednesday night, but where?

All indications Friday were that Greinke would be at Dodger Stadium to face the Washington Nationals Wednesday, but Dodgers manager Don Mattingly slowed that train down on Saturday. Greinke might need to make one more minor league rehab start for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga before he's cleared to return, Mattingly said.

"It won't be his decision," Mattingly said. "Sounds like doc's going to have to say he's ready to pitch here. It's not so much that he's ready to pitch here, but that they're willing to take the risk of everything that could happen while he's pitching here."

It's one thing that Greinke can pitch again, one month after breaking his left collarbone. The Dodgers still are concerned that fielding, hitting and running the bases could put his healing bone in harm's way. Greinke has only hit soft toss. It's possible that, when he does return, he'll be under orders to not swing.

"Weird things can happen [when a pitcher bats]," Mattingly said. "He could bunt and run to first, the throw's up the line and the first baseman runs into the guy. Out of the ordinary things could happen."

Here are lineups for Saturday's game. The Dodgers trying to snap an eight-game losing streak:

Miami Marlins
1. Adeiny Hechavarria SS
2. Matt Diaz LF
3. Placido Polanco 3B
4. Justin Ruggiano CF
5. Marcell Ozuna RF
6. Miguel Olivo C
7. Greg Dobbs 1B
8. Nick Green 2B
9. Kevin Slowey RHP

Los Angeles Dodgers
1. Carl Crawford LF
2. Dee Gordon SS
3. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
4. Matt Kemp CF
5. Andre Ethier RF
6. A.J. Ellis C
7. Skip Schumaker 2B
8. Juan Uribe 3B
9. Hyun-Jin Ryu LHP

Still waiting on Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier

May, 10, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- The storyline seems to be that the Los Angeles Dodgers put together the most expensive team in baseball history and that it hasn’t worked out, because all those pricey moves backfired.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kemp
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsWhile Matt Kemp looks as if he might be rebounding from the worst slump of his career, his longtime Dodgers teammate Andre Ethier has entered a similar downward spiral.

Nice storyline, if only it were true.

Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were the prime pieces of August’s big trade with the Boston Red Sox, and they’ve been the Dodgers' best hitters.

Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu have pitched well, and how were the Dodgers to know Carlos Quentin was nursing a three-year-old grudge and was going to break Greinke’s collarbone in his second start? Similar deal with Hanley Ramirez: How were they to know he would sustain two fluke injuries and miss all but four games so far?

What has been dragging the Dodgers down lately are the guys who were here before all this turnover started. Unless Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier can resume their All-Star form of years gone by, this team has no chance of escaping the brambles of massive disappointment.

An eight-game losing streak is survivable. Being buried in the standings in May is a lot better than being buried in the standings in August.

But what about the homegrown big bats? Just when Kemp starts showing signs of emerging from the worst slump of his career, his longtime teammate goes into a similar nosedive.

Kemp nearly ignited a rally in the eighth inning of the Dodgers’ 5-4 loss to the Miami Marlins on Friday, when he led off with a single and stole second. But Ethier hit a lazy fly ball to right field -- a skill he seems to have mastered -- and helped ease the pressure on Miami’s far-from-intimidating bullpen.

Kemp is hitting .316 during this modest nine-game hitting streak, although he’s never had a power outage of this length before (one home run in 125 at-bats).

Ethier is in the midst of a spiral, batting .209 with just three extra-base hits since April 20. Only two right fielders in the league, Jayson Werth and Jay Bruce, have a worse OPS.

“Dre’s swing always looks good to me, but he seems frustrated early on, and that’s not going the right direction,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

The Dodgers on Friday brought back Scott Van Slyke, a player with a poor track record in a short major league stay but a red-hot hitter in the minor leagues. He had an otherworldly 1.236 OPS at Triple-A Albuquerque.

It might be time to give Ethier a day to get his thoughts in order, and see whether Van Slyke can stay hot and help ignite the spark that has been missing on this team in weeks. Right now, Ethier is not getting it done for the only major league team he has ever known.

Quick take: Marlins 5, Dodgers 4

May, 10, 2013

LOS ANGELES -- For a few precious minutes in the early-evening sun, the air seemed fresher at Dodger Stadium.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were taking it to a promising young pitching prospect named Jose Fernandez, hitting his upper-90s fastballs hard, leaving behind, for the moment, all the wasted at-bats of the previous week. It seemed their seven-game losing streak would be just a memory.

Adrian Gonzalez sent a ball soaring over the center-field wall and he fist-pumped his way around the bases after giving the Dodgers a 3-0 lead. Maybe the relentless chatter over manager Don Mattingly's job status would go away now.

Then the next two hours and 50 minutes happened.

The gloom that has surrounded this team for more than a week descended again, with the Dodgers losing to the lowly Miami Marlins, 5-4. Reliever Ronald Belisario came into a 3-3 tie and gave up three straight hits -- including a soaring double that missed clearing the fence by a millimeter or so -- and that was that, the Dodgers shuffling off to their eighth straight loss.

Matt Magill pitched fairly well in his third major league start, but he made a mistake to a youngster playing his second major league game and Derek Dietrich lifted it over the right-field wall, the three-run blast tying the score.

The Dodgers had action in the eighth inning, with Matt Kemp leading off with a single and stealing second ahead of A.J. Ellis' RBI single. The tying run stayed stranded at third, however. The Dodgers are hitting .214 with runners in scoring position, 26th in the majors.

Maybe it's not going to be so easy

August, 26, 2012

Sarah Glenn/Getty Images
After enjoying only accolades following his trade from Miami, Hanley Ramirez is just 4-for-his-last-23 and put the Dodgers in a bind against the Marlins by going 0-for-4 and booting a ball.

Sunday came at the right time, offering a helpful, come-back-to-Earth moment for a team that about 15 hours earlier looked like it was preparing for an October parade in August.

The Dodgers essentially bought 15 percent of the Boston Red Sox's roster in the past few days.

On Saturday night, the team set up a podium and microphones near home plate to introduce three of those purchases in a postgame ceremony piped over the loudspeakers at Dodger Stadium.

By Sunday, it watched some of its newest millionaires put up at-bats in the clutch worthy of minor league journeymen in a 6-2 loss to the Miami Marlins.

The commissioner's office is not just going to award the National League pennant to the team that piles up the biggest contracts. You don't just add up the number of All-Star appearances on the back of a team's baseball cards to sort out the playoff seedings.

The Dodgers forced Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen to use five relievers and scored one run off them. They equaled the Marlins' 11 hits and lost by four runs. They stranded 16 runners on base -- half by Hanley Ramirez -- and were 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position.

Frustrating? Yeah. Part of the game? Obviously.

"We'll probably see more of these with this type of club," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "I think you'll see days where you get lots of guys out there and you don't score, then, all of a sudden, you're going to see days where you throw up 12 or 14 on a day like this. We'd just like a little more balance."

Baseball is a little too nuanced to assume this team is a World Series contender because it led the league in transactions. We have to see how things sort out over the coming weeks, to see how this assortment of talents, personalities and styles becomes a team. The fact that the bulk of the Dodgers' activity came in late August only shrunk the sample size.

Ramirez has yet to deal with a negative storyline since he got to Los Angeles. He drove in runs immediately and earned adulation for game-winning hits within his first week of traveling west. When the barometric pressure dropped in Miami, his track record doesn't exactly suggest he was a stalwart grinder. Now, he's 4-for-his-last-23, and he hurt his team in so many ways Sunday, including booting a ball on a fairly routine backhand play to allow a run to score and going a painful 0-for-4.

"Just one of those days. It's not the end of the world," Ramirez said. "I've just got to sit down and see what I can learn to come back better. I was swinging at balls out of the strike zone."

The Dodgers don't have long to sit around and see what happens with this experiment in late-season team making. With 34 games left, they're in the thick of the playoff race but in a far-from-comfortable position, just behind the leaders.

"It's not really that time of year to say, 'We'll get them tomorrow,' or, 'We've got a lot of time left,'" Mattingly said.

The Dodgers are in the strange position of having to hurry up to get to know themselves.

3 Up, 3 Down: Marlins 6, Dodgers 2

August, 26, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers couldn't carry the momentum of Saturday's massive trade to a second straight win.

They lost 6-2 to the Miami Marlins on Sunday, an excruciatingly frustrating day at the plate, especially for shortstop Hanley Ramirez. The Dodgers went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position, managing to score just two runs on 11 hits.

The Dodgers stranded 16 runners.

The Good:

Traction. The Dodgers hadn't been getting much spark from the top of their lineup. Shane Victorino was in a 2-for-18 slump and he missed Saturday's game due to some back stiffness. Maybe things started turning for Victorino with three hits. The Dodgers have plenty of middle-of-the-order hitters now, but they don't have many premium table setters, so they need Victorino to create chances.

Nick who? You may not know this, but the Dodgers acquired Nick Punto in Saturday's nine-player blockbuster with the Boston Red Sox. Punto even joked about his relative anonymity during Saturday's media conference, answering a question intended for Adrian Gonzalez. He's a local guy, having grown up in Mission Viejo, and he got off to a nice start with the Dodgers, getting on base three times and scoring the first run. He also made two brilliant plays at second base and moved to third in a double switch.

Solid, if unspectacular. With the new hitters they've added, the Dodgers should be in pretty good shape if they can get solid pitching from the back of their rotation. They have nothing to complain about with Aaron Harang. He had been on a bit of a roll coming in -- with quality starts in six of his previous eight outings -- and he gave them a chance Sunday. They just couldn't add on runs for him after the first inning. Harang's only meaningful mistakes were home-run pitches to Giancarlo Stanton (join the club) and Rob Brantly (one-man club).

(Read full post)

Andre Ethier on a historic roll

August, 26, 2012
Two-for-two isn’t so tough, right? Guys do it all the time.

If Andre Ethier manages to get hits in his first two at-bats today vs. Miami Marlins lefty Mark Buehrle, he would match the major-league record for consecutive at-bats with a hit, 12. The record was established 110 years ago and hasn’t been equaled in 60 seasons. Detroit Tigers first baseman Walt Dropo was the last hitter to go 12-for-12 in 1950.

Ethier has gotten a hit in every at-bat since a fourth-inning lineout Wednesday. He already set the Dodgers record, previously held by Ron Cey. The feat was overshadowed by the Dodgers blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox completed Saturday.

What’s more impressive is that Ethier has been doing all this with an injury, a blister on his right palm that has caused him to choke up on the bat.

“Andre can hit and he’s caught a little fire. He’s been kind of a streaky guy,” manager Don Mattingly said. “I think shortening his swing and kind of cutting down a little bit has really helped him.”

Here is the Dodgers lineup:

Shane Victorino LF
Nick Punto 2B
Matt Kemp CF
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Hanley Ramirez SS
Ethier RF
Luis Cruz 3B
Matt Treanor C
Aaron Harang P



Zack Greinke
3 2.76 21 16
BAJ. Uribe .375
HRA. Gonzalez 5
RBIA. Gonzalez 15
RA. Gonzalez 11
OPSJ. Uribe .978
ERAH. Ryu 1.93
SOH. Ryu 25